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Samsung HMX-H100 review: Samsung HMX-H100

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Samsung attempts to differentiate the bulk of its HD camcorder line by incorporating SSD--solid-state drive--storage compared to competitors' traditional hard disks, regular old built-in flash, or simply removable flash cards. This is a rather flimsy thread to hang a strategy on. While SSD theoretically confers a size advantage over hard disks, Samsung's core line of four HD camcorders--the HMX-H106, the H105, the H104, and the H100--are nevertheless relatively large, and larger than a typical card-based model. The models are identical save the built-in storage, which starts at none (SDHC card only) and tops off at 64GB.

OVR
6.4

Samsung HMX-H100

The Good

Attractive design; comfortable rotating grip; manual shutter speed and aperture controls.

The Bad

SSD adds unnecessary price premium; so-so video quality; slow, inaccurate autofocus.

The Bottom Line

An interesting design doesn't offset the so-so video quality and performance, especially for the higher priced HMX-H106, H105, and H104. If you're set on this series, though, the no-memory-included Samsung HMX-H100 is probably the best deal of the bunch.

Given that you pay a price premium for the SSD--the differential between the no-memory HMX-H100 and the 16GB H104 is about twice the cost of a Class 6 16GB SDHC card--and the absolute dollar gap widens as capacity increases, the SSD ultimately ends up a marketing gimmick. This series review is based on tests of the H106.


Comparative specs: Samsung HD camcorders Samsung HMX-H106 Samsung SC-HMX20C Sasumng HMX-H105/H104 Sasumng HMX-H100
Sensor 2.2-megapixel CMOS 4-megapixel CMOS 2.2-megapixel CMOS 2.2-megapixel CMOS
1/4.5 inch 1/1.8 inch 1/4.5 inch 1/4.5 inch
Lens 10x f1.8-2.5 3.3-33mm (actual) 10x f1.8-2.5 6.3-63mm (actual) 10x f1.8-2.5 3.3-33mm (actual) 10x f1.8-2.5 3.3-33mm (actual)

Image Stabilization

Optical Electronic Optical Optical

EVF

No No No No
LCD 2.7-inch, 230,000-pixel touch screen 2.7-inch, 230,000-pixel touch screen 2.7-inch, 230,000-pixel touch screen 2.7-inch, 230,000-pixel touch screen
Primary Media 64GB SSD 8GB built-in flash 32GB/16GB SSD SD card
Maximum bit rate n/a (Samsung does not report bit rates)
Manual shutter speed and iris Yes Yes Yes Yes
Accessory shoe No No No No
Mic/headphone jacks No No No No
Audio 2 channels 2 channels 2 channels 2 channels
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 2.5 x 2.4 x 5.1 2.6 x 2.7 x 5.4 2.5 x 2.4 x 5.1 2.5 x 2.4 x 5.1
Operating weight (ounces) 14 16 (est) 14 14
Mfr. Price $899.99 $849.99 $729.99/$649.99 $579.99

While the camcorder's design is attractive, the feel is a mixed bag. Physically, it's quite similar to its progenitor, the HMX10. A tad more compact than nonflash competitors, it looks and feels pretty solid despite its all-plastic construction. All the operational controls--zoom switch, photo button, power, mode, and record--fall comfortably under your right thumb or forefinger. The top zoom switch is one of the skinny, wobbly types that I find uncooperative when trying to maintain a smooth, consistent zoom, however. In a hatch below sit the miniHDMI, the USB, the AV, and the power connectors.

The grip rotates about 150 degrees, and though you can leave it at any point in the rotation, it locks into only two positions. The first slight rotation drops it by about 5 degrees, increasing the height for larger hands. You can continue the rotation to about 150 degrees, useful when shooting at a low angle. This is a clever, older design that I've yet to see copied.

Inside the LCD recess are a power switch, photo flash, display, full auto Easy Q, and image stabilization buttons. On the LCD bezel sit a secondary zoom switch, record button and Q(uick) Menu button. The battery and the SDHC slot sit on the bottom of the camcorder, a poor location if you plan to shoot on a tripod, which completely obstructs the hatch. It also provides a built-in electronic lens cover, a nice feature that has become typical in camcorders in this price range, and the stereo microphones sit on either side of the lens, gaining more separation than we typically see in consumer camcorders.

Unfortunately, though, the touch-screen interface is relatively annoying. I generally find that touch screens aren't very comfortable to work with on the 2.7-inch displays common to this class, and Samsung's proves to be no exception. I found the system to be frequently unresponsive, and require multiple presses to recognize input. That said, the menus are organized fairly well. However, even though the camcorder offers some manual adjustments, like shutter speed and aperture, they're inconveniently buried in the menu system. You can't even pull them up with the Q Menu button; that's reserved for switching storage media (SD or SSD), scene modes, video and photo resolution, white balance, exposure compensation, and focus (auto, manual, or TouchPoint).

The camcorder records 1,920x1,080/60i, as well as 720p and 480p, video using MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 encoding, similar to that used by AVCHD. Though Samsung doesn't report its bit rates, QuickTime reported that most of my test clips encoded at about 17 megabits per second, which is pretty typical for this class; some camcorders can handle up to 24 megabits per second, but if you're not planning on editing the video you probably won't notice the difference. You can fit about 7.5 minutes of footage per gigabyte of storage at highest quality; clips are limited to a maximum of 1.8GB.


Key comparative specs Samsung HMX-H106/H105/ H104/H100 Sony Handycam HDR-XR100 Canon Vixia HG20
Sensor 2.2-megapixel CMOS 4-megapixel Exmor CMOS 3.3-megapixel CMOS
1/4.5 inch 1/5 inch 1/3.2 inch
Lens 10x f1.8-2.5 3.3-33mm (actual) 10x f1.8-2.2 42 - 497mm (16:9) 12x f1.8-3.0 42.9 - 514.8mm (16:9)

EVF

No No No
LCD 2.7-inch, 230,000-pixel touch screen 2.7-inch, 211,000-pixel touch screen 2.7-inch, 211,000-pixel touch screen
Primary Media 64GB/32GB/16GB SSD; SDHC 80GB hard disk 60GB hard disk
Maximum bit rate n/a 16Mbps 24Mbps
Manual shutter speed and iris Yes No Yes
Accessory shoe No No Yes
Mic/headphone jacks No No Yes
Audio 2 channels 5.1 channels 2 channels
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 2.5 x 2.4 x 5.1 2.8 x 2.8 x 5.1 2.9 x 2.5 x 5.4
Operating weight (ounces) 14 14.5 17.6
Mfr. Price $899.99/$729.99/ $649.99/$579.99 $749.99 $899.99

Compared with many of its competitors, especially the higher priced ones that go head-to-head with the H106, the performance doesn't stand up very well. The autofocus especially seems slow, and has more trouble than usual finding and locking on the correct subject. I ended up having to use the TouchPoint focus more frequently than normal, and between the occasionally nonresponsive touch screen and the subsequent slow focus--even after being told where to look--I missed several shots. The optical stabilizer works pretty well out to the end of the zoom range, though.

While the video quality isn't bad, it lacks the sharpness and color saturation we expect from HD models. Edges are noticeably fuzzy, especially when viewed on a large-screen TV. Even in good light there's some color noise in the video, and low-light video looks perceptibly noisy and overprocessed. In normal daylight, the white balance is overly cool and there's some clipping in the highlights. Still photos just look smeary and overprocessed.

There's not much to recommend in Samsung's current HMX series--the H106, the H105, the H104, and the H100--over similarly priced competitors. They don't stand out in any particular aspect, and weak, though not terrible, performance and video quality may be turnoffs for many people. Before committing to one, check out our list of top HD camcorders.

OVR
6.4

Samsung HMX-H100

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6Image quality 6